Wednesday, October 16, 2013

smoke on the water: historic Georgetown rolls on

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My husband and I started our married life in a sleepy pre-Revolutionary hamlet perched on Winyah Bay. Georgetown SC is best known by some for the smell of the paper mill, the rust of the steel mill, or as a convenient stopping point south of Myrtle Beach. But this beautiful little town, with its oak-lined streets, plantations, antique shops, and restaurants, is brimming with history and charm. It was a good place to get a new life rolling. Only now the town is looking for some new life of its own. 
 (c)2009 Mike Covington

We lived in a little carriage house downtown right off Front Street. Living downtown meant we could walk just about everywhere. We walked to the library, to the post office, to the book store, to the park, and to church on Sundays. We didn't have much money, so we entertained our kids by walking the boardwalk along the Sampit River, playing under the oaks on the lawn of the Kaminski House, and buying an occasional ice cream on Front Street. When we had a little money, we would walk down to the River Room for a good meal and to visit the commemorative Capt. Morgan Futch plaque in the lounge.

We made some good friends there and so did our kids. I remember one little girl in particular, Charity. Her sister worked with me at the Arts Commission, and Charity loved coming downtown whenever she could. She loved the old buildings, the water, the history. Not content to walk, she would often roller skate over to our little bungalow from whichever house her dad was restoring at the time. When her family moved downtown, Charity became a more frequent guest in our humble home. She loved nothing more than accompanying us on our walks down Front Street. However, mere walking was too slow for her - she had to roll by on her zippy skates.

We lived there for only three years before moving back to Charleston. But we never forgot the little town where we started our life together. And we never forgot the little girl on skates.

Now the little girl is a woman, married with a son of her own. She still knows how to roll. And she still has a love affair with the little historic town on the Sampit River. 

On September 25, 2013, the little town of Georgetown suffered a major blow. A pre-dawn fire ripped through a stretch of waterfront shops and residences on Front Street. Thankfully there was no loss of life, but the people who lived, worked, and owned businesses there lost everything but the shirts on their backs. The rest of the town felt their pain, and were also devastated by the loss of beauty, loss of history, and the sense of vulnerability caused by the fire.

 Photo from unidentified source

It has been three weeks since the fire. I have wanted to write about it, to bring attention to Georgetown as they recover. One of my friends even sent me a message saying, "Hey, where's your love for Georgetown?" Still, I haven't had time to visit in person and I haven't had the words needed to share the loss. 

But someone did have the words. My friend Charity. The loss for her was not just a news report, not just an "oh, that's a shame" about a town in her past. The loss for her cut deep in her heart. She wrote the words I wanted to have but couldn't. And with her permission, these are the words I will share:
"Did Front Street really burn yesterday or was that just a dream? A really bad dream? 
Around 7 p.m., I finally felt ready to go downtown with my sister. I knew I couldn't take seeing the flames. I thought I might be able to stomach seeing the ruins of what was left. But I couldn't bear to see my beautiful Front Street crumbling. It was as if Sherman had made his way to our town and torched it all!
2013 Charity Garvin Thomas - Do not copy without permission

I did not own a business or reside there. Not a single personal item of mine was lost. But I felt the hurt just as much as if it were my own. I have a very strong and very special love for the Historic District. I spent half my life growing up downtown.
As a little girl, I accompanied my daddy downtown as he worked repairing old homes and buildings. I helped him in his work, but mostly I would take off on my skates or bike and explored the streets. Then we moved (downtown) to Orange Street, and I had access to every book and newspaper the library held about the history of the town.
As a teenager, I would spend hours in the local history room studying the information of the history, houses and buildings. I could never get enough of it. I was hungry for it. I would often take my high school friends on tours through town and cemeteries telling them all the legends.
I fell in love with the Kaminski House while working there in 1999. At 20, I wanted to open my own tour business but then fell in love with the art of picture framing as I worked at Augustus and Carolina framing (now the Maritime Museum).
In 2008, I opened my little frame shop on King Street, Hole in the Wall Framing. I just couldn’t see my shop being anywhere else but downtown. I have fallen in love with the people in this town … residents and business owners. If my heart feels this broken, then I can’t imagine what they are feeling.
To see residents who have had every personal item and memory snatched from them, to see the restaurants and stores who were just starting out with success in the economy and the ones who have been there for years that we had grown to love, to see all those hopes and dreams gone has made my heart break more!
This is not the first major fire this town has seen. In the 1800s we lost a whole block of Screven between the courthouse and Town Clock. They rebuilt and recovered then, and we will do it again. Only this time I feel it will be better because there will be more love for the history and architecture put into rebuilding.
So many prayers for these people who have lost so much, and many thanks to the firefighters who have risked their lives! What a beautiful town we have filled with beautiful people!"
Charity Garvin Thomas, Georgetown SC

Thank you, Charity, for allowing me to share your heart-felt tribute. You are one of the beautiful people who make Georgetown the town it is and who will help preserve the past as it moves into the future. Because we both know - that's just how Charity rolls. 
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